They crowded around me, some with tears in their eyes, waiting to talk to me. I had wondered if my words would mean anything to them. I had spoken of the rejection and pain, fear and self-doubt, bullying and isolation that had marked my early years. These wholesome suburban teenagers had experienced a childhood wholly different from mine.
Or had they?
As I was preparing my talk, I assumed this group of teens, predominantly young men, would have nothing in common with me. I was a brown-skinned handicapped woman in her late 40s; they were clean-cut athletic teenagers. Would they even care what I had to say?
The previous week, I had spoken to a group of older, mostly brown-skinned, inner-city women who had suffered great injustices in their lives. I knew they would identify with my story. But I didn’t expect this group to relate to me.
I had expected these young adults, who seemed to have everything together, to dismiss me immediately.
But as I spoke, I realized how little I knew of what they had endured. How much I had prejudged them based on appearance. As their eyes met mine, the most unlikely teenagers were the most moved. I was reminded again that all of us carry pain, but some of us stuff it down so deep that no one would ever guess that it was there. But in reality, we all have our scars.
I had prayed much more for this talk than I had prepared. I had felt inadequate and unqualified and I had asked God to pull something relevant out of my story for the young people who were present. But when I sat down to write, the words wouldn’t come.
And so I prayed more earnestly, asking God to help me be open to His Spirit. In the moment. To not feel that I had to rely on my own wisdom and my own words but to trust Him and His words.
That kind of trust terrifies me.
I am comfortable when each word I plan to say is carefully scripted. Then I can deliver my message exactly as it is written. No uncertainty and no mistakes. Not that I am particularly eloquent, but it is safer to craft every phrase deliberately.
It is frightening to be open to what God wants. To trust that He will give me what I need at the right time. But that’s often when I see God most clearly. Because I’m delivering His words and not my own.
As I started speaking to these young people, the Lord guided my words. As I looked into their eyes, I saw they knew pain too. It was well concealed, but just below their cool exterior was a jumble of doubts, fears and pain.
I saw the same doubts, fears and pain I had experienced decades ago. And some that I still feel today.
We are all looking for the same thing. Love. Acceptance. Friends. To fit in. And many of us aren’t sure if we’ll measure up. Find what we’re looking for. Or feel like we belong.
And today, with social media, everything is amplified. We know when we’re not invited to the party that our friends are going to. We know which friends are hanging out together without us. We know what other people are doing on Saturday night, as we sit looking at our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook feeds.
We know what it feels like to be left out. Sometimes we can shake it off, but other times it reverberates through our head. Variations of the idea, “There’s something wrong with me. Everyone else has more friends than I do. I’m not good enough.”
Most of us have felt inadequate at some point.
Some of my own insecurities were forged decades ago in my childhood. When kids laughed at me, and made fun of me and called me a cripple. That meant I wasn’t good enough.
Only as an adult, when I saw those lies for what they were, could I let go of the past. When I allowed God’s love and grace to rewrite who I thought I was. When I saw that I am defined by who I am in Christ. And He says that I am loved. Accepted. Beautiful.
I poured out my thoughts to these high schoolers, unsure of how they would respond. Would they be able to look past the specifics of my story and bridge it to their own? But after I finished, I had no doubts.
God had used my past, and the pain I had long wanted to hide, to reach these students. My stories of rejection and the shame that had distanced me from my peers were the links that bound us together. Because we all feel like outsiders sometimes.
I do not know what others need. I do not know how I can help anyone, how my story can possibly be relevant to anyone else. But the longer I live, the better I see, that God uses my struggles and my weaknesses, my pain and my humiliation, my insecurities and my failures, more powerfully than He uses my gifts and my strengths.
The apostle Paul knew that all too well, as the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.”
We all have pain. We all have hurts. We all feel inadequate. But through those experiences, God refines us and comforts us and gives us a testimony of His power in our weakness.
Don’t be afraid of your story. Don’t believe your story is only relevant to those who are just like you. Or have been through what you have. Or who think like you do.
And don’t prejudge who needs to hear about God’s work in your life. Let the Lord guide you. Trust Him. Even when it’s scary. Even when it means exposing your insecurities and struggles leaving you vulnerable, because that’s often when you’ll make the deepest connection.
You have a story. All of us do.
Tell your story.
photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar